American Foods the Japanese Just Don’t Like

For years, I’ve thought that most American foods had more or less caught on across the world; after all, if McDonald’s and KFC are in nearly every country in the world, what else could there be?

Turns out that there’s a whole lot more to American food than hamburgers and fried chicken; and that a lot of this American food does not, in fact, go over well in international markets like Japan.

Earlier this year, our awesome guest poster Eryk from This Japanese Life did a roundup of the newest and strangest season beverages in Japan, including Salty Watermelon Pepsi, Espressoda, and . . . root beer?

Root Beer

The Japanese don’t really “get” root beer. Most Japanese find it kind of gross, and some even call it “America’s natto.”

Some of the commentors on the article pointed out that root beer isn’t really known in other parts of the world, either. I don’t know why I hadn’t recognized that root beer is pretty uniquely American, but I guess I just assumed that if Coke and Pepsi had made a warpath across the world that the rest of the soda fountain came along too.

Photo by jjesskalee

But Japan’s aversion to root beer goes beyond just an unfamiliarity. One of the ingredients in traditional root beer is anise, an herb used in foods all across the world. It’s used in Japan too, but for a a different purpose — medicine. The same way America flavors its medicine with things like menthol or whatever the hell they flavor cough syrup with, Japan flavors a good deal of its medicine with anise.

So imagine taking a swig of a drink and tasting something that registered to you as medicinal. Pretty much a non-starter, unless you’re into purple drank.

As a result, root beer isn’t available across much of Japan (American military bases being an exception), and there isn’t really much of a demand for it.

Peanut Butter

Peanut butter is another food popular in America that hasn’t really translated over well into the Japanese market; which, to Americans living in Japan, might just be the Worst Thing Ever.

Americans love their peanut butter. In the land of George Washington Carver, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, peanut butter cookies, and other peanut butter-based confections are practically dietary staples. Hell, I’ve seen more than a few people just eat spoonfuls of peanut butter right out of the jar. (College does strange things to people.)

Photo by tamdotcom

Given all that, it might be shocking to find out that the American favorite Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups weren’t available in Japan until this year.

Like I mentioned earlier, there are other forms of peanut butter in Japan, but they aren’t really peanut butter in the way most Americans understand. There’s something called “peanut cream,” which is apparently more like peanut-flavored frosting than regular-ol’ peanut butter. There’s “peanut whip” too, which is possibly even farther from peanut butter than peanut cream.


In retrospect, I’m not really sure why this was such a big surprise to me. After all, it’s not like all Japanese foods been welcomed with open arms into the American market, and those that do make it over are often changed up (see: sushi abominations).

If you’re in the US, enjoy your root beer and peanut butter (but maybe not at the same time . . .), just don’t expect to be able to be able to do the same if you travel to Japan.

Oh, and just so we’re all clear: crunchy peanut butter is better than creamy.

  • Gabi

    I live in Puerto Rico ( and am a Puertorrican) and I LOVE root beer! Its not that hard to find…

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    Maybe the article pronounced herb with a not-silent “H”?

  • Phantomeye

    offtopic:

    Someone should write a post about ninjas (it would be interesting, i think) and how they aren’t what movies shows (i don’t think there was an article about that (or was it?) already)

  • http://mistersanity.blogspot.com Jonadab

    Yeah, I was going to quote that same scene. Hilarious.

    (Yes, I do rather like root beer. That scene is still hilarious anyway. Although, Quark’s comment to the Klingon woman about most of the Klingons on the station only ordering blood wine or prune juice is even better.)

  • http://twitter.com/shollum Shollum

    I imagine a lot of US ‘foods’ are banned in other countries. The FDA isn’t exactly the best administration of it’s type (well, ‘best’ is debatable, but they do let a bunch of crap through). Apparently, the FDA thinks that a lack of studies is the same as a study that says “All clear!” and lets it on shelves.

    Yeah, food allergies suck. I don’t have one myself, but it always seems that the most common food allergies are of the most common foods like wheat, dairy, shellfish (a big thing if you live in my area), peanut, etc.

  • foozlesprite

    Slightly related note: Virgil’s is the best root beer in existence, thanks for having it as your representative pic ;)

    And regarding bread in Japan, melon-pan is amazing. I’d be ok never having a sandwich again if I had access to melon-pan on a regular basis.

  • Tuna

    I’ve heard of things like that. I remember watching a youtube video where a person spread four different types of “peanut butter” (One American and the other three from Japan), and they said that all of the Japanese ones were kind of gross or overly sweet. Shame though, I want to go to Japan and not being able to get chunky peanut butter for my sandwich would be a slight downer some days.
    Oh, but I hate Root Beer. So all I can say to that is good riddance.

  • ela

    It took my mom a while to even like Coke or Pepsi. We thought hey wouldn’t it be great if medicine did taste like rootbeer! Peanut butter texture in Japan is different, its softer. Its pretty good to. Its not in jars here, they are in butter type containers.

  • ela

    Cream soda in Japan means there is a scoop of ice cream in it!

  • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

    They don’t eat peanut-butter mochi in Japan?

  • zalin

    How can anyone live in this world without peanut butter!!!

  • narcolepticltd

    I wonder if peanut butter and natto onigiri would sell…. anywhere?

  • narcolepticltd

    what about corn nuts?

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  • henderson101

    In the UK, we say “Herb” with a “H”, so “a Herb” works here. I’m unclear why you think otherwise. ‘Erb is an American pronunciation.

  • henderson101

    How can you say that when Peanut butter KitKat chunky just got relaunched after a competition to choose which flavour to re-introduce? Also, Reeces Peanutbutter Cups, Pieces and the nutty bar (forget the name) are available all over the place. The Sainsbury local on the corner near where I work in London stocks them and has done since opening,.

  • henderson101

    Root Beer in the UK has had a chequered past. In the 1980′s, all of the McDonald’s franchises near where I grew up (Portsmouth, South Coast) didn’t stock Coke or Pepsi, they had a “no brand” cola, and *Root Beer*. I have no idea when the franchises changed to Coke, sometime in the 1990′s, but we lost Root Beer at that point. It was never popular, but we did have it. Toot Beer is now extremely niche and pretty much impossible to get. We have our own cognate product, “Dandelion and Burdock”, which is brewed using a similar process. It’s not the same. You can get A&W and Mugg with out too much trouble, but only on import and for about 3 times the price of a domestic UK soft drink.

    The issue a lot of people have with Root Beer is that it tastes like a medicine to us. Indeed, the most common complaint is that it “tastes like mouthwash.” We have more than one brand of mouthwash that tastes exactly like Root Beer (Listerine Cool Mint comes to mind.) I think that’s why it’s not popular.

    Peanut butter has been available in the UK since my mother was a child, if not before. It has waxed and waned in popularity, especially now that Peanut allergies are wide spread, but we do get it. We also get Peanut Butter KitKat chunky (had one only last night) and various Reeces products (cups, pieces and bars.)

    The other US obsessions that we don’t share –

    - Cinnamon – we don’t have as much of this. We barely have any sweets or candies flavoured with it. Nor did we have any breakfast cereals till fairly recently.

    - Iced Tea – this has only become popular in the last 4 or 5 years. Despite being avid tea drinkers, it’s rare to make Iced tea. Most people buy ready made. We get one regular brand – Liptons – and a few random brands (Aldi, as budget supermarket, stocks a random Iced Tea brand in summer.) Getting Nestea (my favourite brand) is almost impossible. I resort to buying the powder on import.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    In the US it’s not uncommon to hear “herb” more like “erb.” I’m used to saying “an herb” while speaking that it didn’t occur to me that it would look strange when written.

    Just think of it like Stephen Colbert saying “an historical event.” Pretend I did it on purpose :P

  • Gerard van Schip

    I love my peanut butter and I’m happy to report that almost every supermarket here sells Skippy, the smooth and the chunky one. Granted, a small jar will set you back 400 yen but that is a small price to pay for real peanut butter.

    Now what you are really missing is bacon! Proper smoked bacon is gold dust here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/levene.leblanc Levene Leblanc

    When I went to Germany, peanut butter was not very popular either.

  • CelestialSushi

    Meanwhile, the US is the only country in the world (as far as I know and have read) that has banned Kinder Surprise eggs… just because there’s an non-edible (encapsulated) toy inside a hollow chocolate egg.

  • CelestialSushi

    I didn’t know it was pronounced like that in the UK… neat. I believe they pronounce it like “herb” in Japanese, too (We had some fruit and herb tea bags that read, in Japanese, “furuutsu to haabu”). I think here in America the only time it’s pronounced “herb” is when it’s used as a name.

  • CelestialSushi

    LOL, seriously? XD That’s like asking for “iced tea” or “ice tea” in Germany… they give you a scoop of ice cream in your tea! XD (It happened to one of my relatives)

  • Brewmasta Aki

    Rootbeer flavoured peanut butter would be delicious!

  • TannerC

    Funny how I never noticed the Japanese didn’t like root beer. Then again I don’t really like it much either. xD

    There is one food that I also noticed that both Japanese and Koreans seem to really hate. Red licorice. Both Redvines and Twizzlers. I remember when I was studying abroad in Japan and the American teachers brought in a bulk tub of redvines for the English Lounge. The only people who touched it were the Western students. I think I heard from some of them that it was too sweet for them. That doesn’t quite surprise me given how sugar-loaded foods are rare or served in small quantities.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1524583187 Rebekah Nunes

    ^-^ my mom used to always tell me about root beer aparentley they used to serve it over here (UK) in McDonalds but stopped ages ago before i was born. It was her favorite drink :) so when they started selling it in ASDA a (only couple of years ago i think) I was super chuffed to get her some.
    When i first tried it oh so recently, I imeadietly recognised the anise taste and likend it to peptibismol but i still liked the drink.
    so i dont really understand how one can dislike something because it has the same flavour of medicine. I mean that would be like me not likeing banana flavour because of kids antibiotics or strawberry because of colpol. they are nice flavours put in to make medication less disgusting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1524583187 Rebekah Nunes

    yes here in the UK I had noticed pop tarts would apear for a while then disapear for a long while and then apear again. someone told me it was actually to do with the way they are cooked and safety scares. i.e. lots of people hurting themselves trying to get them out the toaster and even more burning themselves with the piping hot jam inside even tho sometimes the outside is still quite cold :/ I’ve not heard of this ingreadient banning tho

  • http://twitter.com/pinksharpii Kayla 케일라

    I think I found one person who liked Twizzlers when I brought them over.

  • richardspetersen

    Would you like to see a look of total disgust in the face of a Japanese person? Give them a bite off the end of a rope of black licorice!

  • derpereprederp

    I think the crunchy one is better.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Scott-Greenwald/1818084312 Scott Greenwald

    There are quite a few A&W restaurants throughout Okinawa. Maybe because of the large US Military population on the island. I can’t recall ever seeing an A&W restaurant on the mainland though (Honshuu). And yep, (real) peanut butter is friggin expensive in Japan!

  • LLESI

    I’m from Puerto Rico.
    It’s easy to find root beer, but personally I have never liked root beer. The taste is gross to me.
    Then I moved to US, and learned about peanut butter. That is another thing I also don’t like.
    These are two things I am content not having in my life.

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  • http://twitter.com/karmillina Senpai Magica

    That’s good to know. I make sure to take a jar of peanut butter with me when I go to Japan D:

  • AnonymousArizonan

    Pathetic article/entry/thing…

    And, someone repeatedly commented on it under a whole bunch of names, with the same picture, and while clearly being the same person… Insane stalker alert.

  • Preston Hopkins

    Oh but you are wrong. So very wrong.

  • Craig Volpe

    Twizzlers is NOT liquorice/licorice. It is red liquorice, which is liquorice in name only. It’s not real liquorice unless it’s flavored with liquorice.

    And yes, it’s very strange that this article omitted liquorice. That is probably the most disliked western food in Japan. Also strange they left out cheese. Even though you can find cheese in Japan, it’s uncommon, expensive, and many Japanese don’t like the taste of the more pungent ones. Makes sense though, as the vast majority of Asians are lactose intolerant.

    Also, Peanut butter isn’t nearly as uncommon in Japan as the article makes it sound.

  • Craig Volpe

    Correction: American English and British English pronounce some words differently. Please don’t correct people unless you know what you’re talking about.

  • Craig Volpe

    Pop tarts aren’t banned anywhere. It’s an urban legend. They simply have become discontinued due to unpopularity in some countries. The only slightly related thing is a bill in several states in the US that is called the “Pop-Tart” bill, which is designed to counter zero-tolerance gun laws, after a student in Maryland was suspended after biting around his Pop-tart to make it resemble a gun shape.